What is STAR?

SET TARGETS. ACHIEVE RESULTS. That’s what it takes to be a star. At Cook County, we’re aiming to be stars — across 50+ departments, 23,000 employees, and a $3 billion budget, we are Setting Targets to Achieve Results. STAR is a collaboration involving the Board of Commissioners, County Agencies, employee unions, and residents.

We have set ourselves a target of becoming the best run county in the United States, and are measuring and reporting on our performance in an unprecedented manner in order to accomplish that. Offices have worked since early 2011 on setting STAR goals—goals that matter to residents—and figuring out how to measure them. They were supported and trained by pro bono partners from our local business community. STAR helps the Board and the public use data to consider budget trade-offs, directing your tax dollars wisely to achieve the results you expect. We have reduced wait time for emergency services, reduced costs, and provided better budget information among many other improvements.

Cook County will continue to see improvements thanks to the support of our employees, who are crucial to the success of STAR. We will continue to work with them closely, looking at the facts together. The County will recognize the highest performing teams with STAR awards. The STAR program consists of a few basic steps: state your goal, figure out how to measure it, report the facts, and use data to make decisions.

✓  State the Goals

Goals describe what a department is trying to do. For example, the Highway Department’s first goal is: Ensure safe County highways and bridges. County Commissioners, Union leaders, and the public shared ideas on what the goals should be. Chicago’s business community provided pro bono assistance to help the County set goals. They shared experience and research from other governments and even businesses. Cook County’s goals are therefore based on the best thinking from across the country. The targets are meant to be challenging yet reachable. This is what you should expect from your County: better results, increased efficiency.

✓  Figure out how to measure it

You can’t tell success from failure if you don’t measure your results. We figured out concrete ways to measure our goals. Take the example of the Highway Department’s goal “Ensure safe County highways and bridges.” We can measure progress by looking at how many bridges achieve a sufficiency rating above 75 and whether claims for property damage related to our infrastructure are increasing or decreasing. In many cases, the County hasn’t been collecting data related to these goals. We looked at how others measure similar operations, and we’re starting to track the results.

✓  Report the facts

The performance management ordinance passed by the Board of Commissioners requires all agencies to report quarterly on their performance measures. We are constantly working to improve the quality of the data and the measures we report. In some cases that means we need to implement new data tracking processes to collect and report on the most valuable information. We continue to challenge ourselves. We’re putting the real facts out there so you can see how we’re doing and share your suggestions for how we can do better. If everything were on track and “got a star,” we wouldn’t be aiming high enough.

✓  Use data to make decisions

The STAR process helps us make decisions based on facts, not gut instinct. In the President’s Office, for example, the Chief of Staff meets with all deputies to review a single department in depth. The meeting includes executives such as the CFO, HR Director, Chief Information Officer, and Chief Procurement Officer. In addition, every department submits a monthly report, so we can spot emerging issues and head them off before they become problems. Managing for results is just as important as reporting on the data. For example, in a review session, we found unnecessary red tape in how invoices are paid. On the spot, the Chief of Staff assigned a team to look at the legal ramifications of changing it. Three weeks later, the invoicing process was streamlined, reducing the time it takes to pay companies that do business with the County.